College of Engineering alumnus Don Voelte and his wife, Nancy Keegan, chair of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s board of directors, have given a $5 million campaign gift to UNL. In recognition of their gift, UNL’s Nanoscience Metrology Facility will be named in their honor.
The nanoscience center is on the corner of 16th and W Streets and adjoins Jorgensen Hall, home of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. In addition to the Voelte-Keegan gift, a $6.9 million competitive federal grant and a university commitment now fully funds this $13.9 million building.
“We are both extremely passionate about education and about Nebraska, and the University of Nebraska presents the perfect opportunity to contribute to both,” Keegan said. “In nanoscience, the University of Nebraska is an established leader as demonstrated by the prestigious federal grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Furthermore, nanoscience reaches into our specific backgrounds and interests in engineering, science, medicine and energy. Excellence in nanoscience requires talent and imagination, qualities that we know are abundant at the University of Nebraska. For us, this is the ideal way to participate in the University of Nebraska Foundation’s campaign, as nanoscience certainly encompasses ‘Unlimited Possibilities.’”
The 32,000-square-foot building will provide state-of-the-art, centralized research facilities for more than 80 physics, chemistry, engineering and other faculty members from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and the Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Their work focuses on life-changing discoveries in nanoscale materials for energy, biomaterials, and fabrication and manufacturing, said David Sellmyer, director of the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience. Researchers previously had been spread across several buildings on campus. They will continue to maintain offices in their home departments, but will now benefit from a shared research area to enhance collaboration.
“This collaborative way of doing research now is much, much more powerful,” Sellmyer said. “It will allow us to better confront the grand science and technology challenges facing our country.”
UNL is one of several universities in the Big Ten Conference to have materials research, science and engineering centers supported by the National Science Foundation, but Sellmyer said to have a facility of this caliber is rare. “Our incorporation of nanoscience is what sets us apart,” he said.
Voelte and Keegan have made several previous gifts to the university, totaling more than $2 million, to endow a faculty chair in neurosurgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, to endow a faculty chair at the College of Engineering at UNL, and to support Husker Athletics.
“Don Voelte and Nancy Keegan have been generous to multiple campuses of the University of Nebraska with both time and resources,” said foundation president Clarence Castner. “Nancy’s leadership as the chair of the foundation’s board of directors has impacted everything from our investment strategy and endowment returns to our successful partnership and affiliation with the alumni associations.”
Don Voelte is an Omaha native and received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UNL in 1975. He is the former CEO of Woodside Petroleum, the largest energy company in Australia. Despite living in Australia for the last seven years, Voelte has never missed an opening game of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nancy Keegan grew up in Omaha and received her degree in chemical and petroleum refining engineering from the Colorado School of the Mines and her MBA from Harvard. Most of her career has been in investment banking. Keegan’s paternal grandfather was a graduate of NU’s College of Medicine and later served as its dean. Her maternal grandfather was also an NU graduate and quarterback for the 1914 Cornhuskers. Keegan’s two-year term as chair of the foundation board of directors will conclude in October.
The gift is part of the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, a $1.2 billion fundraising campaign conducted by the foundation on behalf of the University of Nebraska.